Sustainability Day Press Release

Sustainability at the University of Virginia

Contact: Kendall Singleton
Tel: 434.924.5864
Email: kendall.singleton@virginia.edu


As part of a widespread effort to spread sustainability awareness throughout college and university campuses across the country, the University of Virginia will be participating in the 7th annual Campus Sustainability Day on Wednesday, October 21. The focal point of this day is a nationally streamed webcast, “Sustainability Strategies for Vibrant Campus Communities”, hosted by New York Times science reporter Andy Revkin. The webcast will be sponsored on Grounds by U.Va. Community Relations and the Office of the University Architect, and will take place from 1-2:30 in the Newcomb South Meeting room. “Those interested in promoting sustainability are welcome and encouraged to attend,” says U.Va. Sustainability Planner Andrew Greene. A brief informal reception and follow-up discussion will take place in the South Meeting room immediately following the webcast. Please join other sustainably-minded students, faculty and staff in Newcomb to learn what other schools are doing to foster sustainability on their campuses.

Because the University of Virginia already has a significant number of actively engaged community members making substantial strides towards promoting sustainable practices on Grounds, additional U.Va.-specific events are planned for the 21st. In an effort to encourage waste reduction behavior, U.Va. Dining will begin offering a new punch card to reward students for providing their own travel mug when purchasing coffee. A frequent travel mug user will be eligible for two free coffees at any Dining retail location after bringing in his or her reusable mug eight times.

U.Va. Dining will also host a Green Plate Special Theme Meal at Observatory Hill Dining Hall during dinner on October 21. Select items on the menu will celebrate the abundance of Virginia farmers’ agricultural pursuits, as well as the other tenets of the Green Dining Committee’s identified sustainable dining practices: seasonally grown, organically grown and raised, humanely raised, and fairly traded. In tandem with the sustainably-focused meal, students at the dining hall will have the option to sign up to participate in Dining’s recently created reusable to-go container program.


Sustainability at the University of Virginia is an initiative spanning disciplines and schools with the common goal of uniting the U.Va. community in a genuine and lasting effort to mitigate its environmental impact. Such an effort is, and will continue to be, the product of education and innovative collaboration by the many creative thinkers on Grounds.


Stay Updated

To begin, there are a few developments on the information sharing front: first off, I completely revamped the Dining section of the UVa Sustainability website, as it hadn't been updated in close to a year and a half. Click here for the update, and to check out all the work Dining is already doing to further sustainability. The link to a pdf of our sustainability brochure will still take you to an outdated brochure, but my student Sustainability Intern, Laura Moynihan, is working on that updating project.

Secondly, the Green Dining page on the UVa Dining website still needs its own overhaul, but step one of that process has been to embed a Green Dining events calendar onto the page. Click here to see the calendar (or just check out the side bar on this blog, as I also have calendar events streaming on here). Laura has also created a Green Dining flickr page that will hopefully soon be linked to the webpage; in the meantime, click here to see some Green Dining and related pictures.

Last week I went out to The Local Food Hub for a tour of their warehouse facility and an exciting chat with Director Kate Collier and Purchasing and Operations Manager Alan Moore about how UVa Dining may establish a relationship with the Food Hub. The majority of Dining's food currently comes from a large distributor, and our current method of incorporating local food into the dining halls is to encourage them to sell to us through one of our distributors (more expensive, but a verified process nonetheless). The Local Food Hub presents a unique opportunity in that they essentially are their own distributor, and need to be approved to sell to UVa Dining without an additional middleman. The Hub is, of course, also unique in that they are really helping local farmers tap into markets beyond the standard CSA/farmers market set up, and as this will hopefully ensure long-term economic viability (and farmland preservation) for these pioneering agriculturalists, I support the Food Hub's work and our involvement with them, no matter how complex the arrangement becomes. I'm currently in conversations regarding this process with sustainability directors up at corporate headquarters, so stay tuned for developments on this front...

Also last week, Dining Executive Chef Bryan Kelly and I met up with the co-owners of One Planet Coffee for a small coffee tasting and another discussion about the process of becoming an approved Aramark vendor. I'm not a coffee drinker and even I liked it! They have a great focus on purchasing organic, fairly traded and otherwise sustainably grown and harvested coffee beans. There's also the fact that Hedieh Fakhriyazdi, one of the co-owners, is an '09 UVa grad, and is quite familiar with the coffee needs of UVa students. Hedieh and Jacob are doing great things with their fledgling business, and I appreciate them reaching out and sharing their practices with us. As of now, it will be difficult to near-impossible to switch up any of Dining's current coffee arrangements, but I think it's just a matter of time before a small company (with UVa ties, no less) is able to sustainably provide quality coffee to college students.

There is a bit of a resolution to the Cavalier Daily's recent mis-quote fiasco: the Ombudsman wrote a column explaining the need for journalistic transparency and training in proper journalism practices; something I definitely support. Read the article here: "Fine Print".


The Fine Arts Cafe

Third time's the charm, apparently. That's how many tries it took to get the chalkboard menu at the Fine Arts Cafe looking according to everyone's satisfaction. We started with a student and ended up with me handwriting the menu -- twice, as the first round of chalk colors weren't splashy enough, but it's finally up to snuff.

The menu is full of some seriously good eats: a Wolf Creek Farms burger; a black bean quesadilla with Perfect Flavor queso blanco and Farm at Red Hill salsa; a grilled veggie wrap with Farm at Red Hill hummus; etc. In terms of local and sustainable offerings, the Fine Arts Cafe is head and shoulders above other Dining locations, but it also happens to be tucked away in the Architure School, which is a vast unknown to many students at UVa. I was completely ignorant of the A-School as an undergrad myself until I took my first class there the fall of my third year, so I can understand the Fine Arts Cafe not even being on students' radars. As part of our celebration of national Sustainable Campuses Day (October 21); however, we are planning to host a reception at the Fine Arts Cafe, which ought to bring in some non-Architure or Planning students over to Campbell Hall. I'm sure that once these students have their first taste of Perfect Flavor mozzarella in the Caprese Sandwich, or John Whiteside's local grass-fed beef in the Steak and Cheese sub, they won't look back.


Conferences and Journalism

Tuesday I traveled just south of Richmond to Greystone Farm, a former cattle farm that reinvented itself as an aquaculture venture (shrimp farm). The concept of farming fish is still fairly new to me, and I learned a lot about the process of raising shrimp in such a man-made environment. Aquaculture ponds are made with a large drain on the deep end (usually about three feet deeper than the shallow end), and when that drain is opened, the shrimp get pulled out to a catchment area, while the water continues flowing back to the natural pond. I'm still not completely convinced as to the long-term sustainability of this artificial method of seafood production, but it looks like an emerging market that's really going to continue to grow -- and perhaps evolve into a more environmentally friendly process.

Yesterday I went west, over to Lexington, to a Washington & Lee-hosted "Cultivating Sustainability" conference. It was an excellent day, full of enthusiastic people and helpful idea sharing. I made some great connections with Virginia farmers and other folks (including my counterpart at Virginia Tech!) working to further local foods in universities, hospitals, and K-12 environments, and even gave my first conference presentation on my experience starting Green Dining and the success it has had as a truly collaborative group of students and Dining admin.

I returned to Grounds today and after a meeting with engineering professor Ben Cohen (he'd like to get students in his sustainability course involved in helping push foward the sustainable dining agenda) experienced a mild work setback when I read the latest Cav Daily article about Dining. This one focused on Dining's shortcomes with the reusable to-go container (read here), and also caused me quite a bit of surprise when I saw quotes attributed to yours truly in the article. I recalled a student emailing me last week with a question about corn-based plastics, to which, thinking she was just a curious student, I responded via email. This email evidently became the basis for a few improperly solicited quotes. Hm. As I explained to the Ombudsman later today, not only does this reveal a disturbing lack of disclosure on the student's part, the article itself is full of inaccuracies as a result of unclear communication. I'm happy to be interviewed for Dining news stories, but I'd appreciate knowing that I was being interviewed.